Saturday, February 14, 2015

Frozen Assessment

Elsie, Steven, Hurricane Frank, Eddie and Tracey from Frozen
"Please don't hate Frozen, it's my favorite movie!" a hypothetical person once never said to me.
I don't hate Frozen. It's fine. I'm surprised Disney was able to release something that felt modern without offending all their more traditionally-inclined fans. It's a good movie to watch in the summer when you wish it was cold, or in the winter when you can relate to the characters as they shiver and freeze to death.

This review is a bit late, definitely, but I still need to talk about this film because I haven't heard any professional reviewers say what I feel about it, and that's my only condition for writing a review. I won't go over things others have covered more than enough – things like Olaf's ugly design or how layered the plot is for a children's film.

I'm not sure if I really need to say SPOILERS here, as everyone and their dog's seen Frozen. But I will.

~ S C R I P T ~

The film, for me, feels hastily written. Something about the pacing seems off and I have this overwhelming feeling that the world in the movie is a tiny, tiny place. This is called "small world syndrome". It's when a story doesn't allude to anything beyond what's happening onscreen. Yes, they mention a few kingdoms during the party scene, but do those kingdoms end up mattering in any way? Is anyone, besides the denizens of Arendelle, going to be affected by this "harsh winter", (going by the movie's logic that a harsh winter would be a bad thing to these people)? Small world syndrome can be played to a movie's advantage. Groundhog Day, for instance, uses it to make Phil seem even more entrapped by his situation. But Frozen wants me to think it's an epic. Giant snow-covered mountains, power ballads, Nordic chanting. In the end, they all seem so small to me. It's just a castle and a mountain, for the whole movie.

The characters in the movie are... fine. They aren't relatable to me, but not many are. Olaf is a tolerable comic relief sidekick character who I don't want to say anything more about. Anna is a ditz who never really stops being a ditz. Yes, she has a few revelatory moments, like when she realizes marrying someone you met two minutes ago isn't as great an idea as it might appear to be, but she isn't portrayed as being smart or strong. When Hans locks her away, does she try her hardest to escape? That room wasn't a dungeon. There were ways to get out. All of this makes her very unrelatable to me. But maybe that's the point. Maybe the movie is supposed to be all about Elsa's journey, and Anna is just another comic relief character. It's what the movie treats her like, anyway. And so, this movie's cast ends up being almost entirely comic relief characters, save for Hans and Elsa. Unsurprisingly, Hans and Elsa were my favorite characters. I wish they'd fleshed out Hans a bit more. After the big reveal, he flattened out into a straight-up villain with basically no redeeming qualities. Elsa also could've been contrasted a bit better than Anna. Someone who hadn't socially interacted for the majority of her life would've had a tougher time at that party, which also could have been a better source for her powers going haywire. Missed opportunity.

You may have noticed that I left some very important characters out of my roster. Let me now correct that error. By the way, for your personal health, you may not want to look at the image below.

Meanwhile, down at Fraggle Rock...
Yes, apparently rocks can talk, and unfortunately they can also sing. I don't know why these abominations are in the movie. They don't fit in the world at all. Moss shouldn't be able to grow in such a cold environment. Are we to understand that these rock trolls are just a natural occurrence, or were they created magically, which makes me wonder if there was some sort of Rock Witch with rock powers that came before Elsa and animated all of these rocks. As you can see, they raise more questions than they answer, and the fact that "Grand Pabbie" can only speak in the language of Cryptic Old Man doesn't help. All of that could be forgiven if they were funny, because comedy negates logic. Sadly, these characters are too stupid to be funny. Moving on.

Dialogue-wise, the movie is like someone giving a college tour. It's sometimes funny, mostly awkward, and it doesn't add much to the experience.

"Look at that campus! Isn't it just the most amazing thing ever? I mean, I like to think so. But yeah!"
Maybe someone out there thinks it's an absolute riot, I thought it was padded and unwieldy. The best lines in the movie are sung. I have a whole section for the songs, so I'll cover that later.

As far as problems with the plot go, Hans's villain reveal moment was annoyingly cliché. I also don't think it was as big of a deal as everyone made it out to be. Betrayal is a common theme in Disney movies, (The Incredibles, Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Lion King, The Aristocats), and this betrayal wasn't especially devastating, considering how Anna had already met Kristoff. This feeds back into the movie not having enough character development for Anna. Imagine how much worse it would've been for her if she didn't have a comic relief snowman to turn to. I'm not saying I wanted a mopey, depressing story, but I don't think that what we would've gotten. Anna is an upbeat character, and we'd have seen her face these challenges on her own, with nothing but optimism for her to lean on. That sounds much more interesting than the "everything's immediately okay" that we got. I have a few other problems with the plot, but I'm saving them for a special section later on.

~ S O N G S ~

The songs in Frozen are a mixed bag, meaning both that they all sound different from each other, and that some are really good and some are really not good. I'll give little reviews for each of them because the film's soundtrack is such a big part of why people like it.

"Frozen Heart"
Though a misleading song to lead with, Frozen Heart is good at getting you excited about cutting some ice, I'll give it that. The lyrics are poetic in structure, and thoughtfully constructed to parallel elements of the plot. The melody IS a bit repetitive, but the song's short so it doesn't really matter. 

"Do You Want to Build A Snowman?"
A very lonely, sad song that builds satisfyingly. To be honest it made me cry. 
"For the First Time In Forever"
I don't really like this one. Though the melody is good, some of the lyrics are seriously cringe-worthy, ("I don't know if I'm elated or gassy" being a particular zenith of wince).

"Love Is an Open Door"
This song is bouncy and pretty funny lyrically, and has an ironic flavor to it because of the twist later. I'm not sure what the phrase "love is an open door" is supposed to mean. It's probably best that I don't read too much into it. 
"Let It Go"
Brought a smile to my face the first time I heard it. It does bring to mind Defying Gravity from Wicked, though, which is similarly empowering. The melodies could be more interesting, but that's stretching for a nitpick.
"Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People"
Could've also been called "This Song is Funny, But Filler". I heard that they were going to make it the final song in the movie. That would've been awesome. As it is, it's one to skip.
"In Summer"
A vaudevillian number, brought to you by Olaf. It has a few funny lines, but again, it's basically filler because it doesn't reveal much beyond "Olaf wishes it were summer", and doesn't further the plot.
"Fixer Upper"
Atrocious. This is the worst song I've ever heard in a movie. Here's why: The joke is that the trolls are trying to pair up Anna and Kristoff, even though they keep protesting. That's already really awkward, but what makes it worse is that the joke gets dragged out to the point of being extremely uncomfortable. The trolls almost go through an entire wedding ceremony without realizing their mistake! Not to mention all the embarrassing things the trolls were saying about Kristoff. It felt invasive and wrong in general. It might've been saved by an interesting melody or a few clever lyrics, but there are none to be found here.

~ M I X E D  M E S S A G E S ~

True love, everybody.

There are a number of problems relating to the true love twist in this movie. I thought I'd go into more detail about it than I normally would because I'm writing this on Valentine's Day.

Frozen sets up a simple plot mechanic: people who get their hearts frozen need an act of true love to break the curse. I don't have a problem with that, despite Frozen's failure to explain anything about how magic works in its world or why these conditions would apply to the magic.

Here's a rule of thumb for the future: If your movie's magic behaves unconditionally, than you don't need to explain it. Take the Force, for instance. You don't need an explanation for it because there are no rules. You can push things both literally and figuratively, by moving objects and manipulating minds. If, say, a condition was placed where Jedi couldn't use the Force if there was no light present, then you would have to explain why.

Frozen sets up conditions, but doesn't explain them. It doesn't tell us why Elsa has powers or what the source of the magic is or why it can give life to a pile of snow or why it only controls ice and not water or why her ice dress looks like cloth, just to name a few.

But, as I said, I'll let it slide, for now, because it's based on a fairy tale that I'm sure explained about as much. Besides, poor magic system aside, I think they took a real risk on this one by not making Anna kiss Kristoff at the end of the story, like it would've played out in every other fairy tale. Oh, wait.

I thought this movie was supposed to surprise us, to usher in a new era of modern Disney films that break free of the traditions of the past. I was almost willing to overlook the technicalities of breaking the curse with sisterly love instead of platonic love, because it's important to me that modern children's movies don't always tie knots around everyone's fingers. This movie made so many interesting decisions – Elsa as a good guy, Hans betraying Anna, tying Olaf into the back story – that having it all wind up with one of my least favorite tropes was like knocking the nose off the Sphinx.

And speaking of those technicalities, why DID sisterly love work? How does the magic measure love? For all they knew, they could've broken the curse by patting Anna's shoulder. And why use the modifier "true"? If they'd said "an act of love", Hans still wouldn't have been able to break the curse, and I could stop thinking about this and put the matter to rest. But they said "true" love, and sisterly love is basically like friendship love, just with the fact that you're related in the mix. It doesn't have anything on "true" love. So does Anna "truly" love Elsa? Fine, but I don't see a reason why she should. Elsa went out of her way to avoid Anna throughout most of Anna's life. It probably wasn't easy to feed herself or go to the bathroom without emerging from her room. I know Anna's an optimist, but it's kind of pushing it to assume she'd be okay with being ignored by her sister for that long. Maybe love I'd buy, since Anna's pretty forgiving, but seeing how Elsa kept pushing her away even after she was out of her room, "true" love just doesn't make sense.

In the end, it all boils down to how much this sort of thing bothers you, and for me, it brought the movie down to a "eh..." level.

~ F I N A L  T H O U G H T S ~

I'm not sure why this movie was such a big success. I think that if somebody made an animated version of Wicked with attractively designed characters that teenagers would want to ornament their notebooks with, it would be met with a similar response.

A small side note: since the Academy Awards is upon us I want to mention something else. This film won the Best Animated Feature Award in 2013. For the reasons stated above in my review, I don't think it should've won. Most of the strength lies in the songs, and not in the movie sections, which is what the Academy is supposed to be about. It was a pretty lame decision, especially since The Wind Rises came out that year. I'll admit that I didn't find The Wind Rises particularly interesting, but that's because I'm young and I can't relate to older characters and perspectives. That doesn't mean it was a bad film, and it definitely earned an Oscar, unlike Frozen, which, like the Academy, chose safer choices.

As usual, I won't give a rating, because assigning a number to an experience is utterly pointless, (unless you use a point system! Ba-dum-tish!). Whether you agree or disagree with my opinion, I hope what I said helped affirm it.

I hope you had a nice Valentine's Day. My valentine this year was my computer, as always. Until next time.

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